new construction causes water woes for neighbor

yborgalJuly 24, 2007

Well, a new home was built between our house and a neighbor's house. There are 11' side setbacks which places the homes 22' apart.

As they were beginning to stake the home footprint we and the other neighbor spoke to the construction project manager and expressed our concerns that the foundation was being set too high, in fact higher than the elevation of our 2 homes. He went back, determined we were correct and matched our foundation heights.

We also mentioned that the homes on our block would have had a problem with water drainage if the lots had not been graded from front to back so the water would have a natural flow to the lake. Some of us have also had to install french drains and also create a shallow swale in order to direct the flow of rain water.

He said he understood and would make sure there would not be a drainage problem for our 2 homes.

Guess what!!

We had our first heavy rain yesterday. We didn't have a problem, but this new, still uninhabited home lost all of it's bedding mulch on our side of the home and the neighbors on the other side had their side yard flooded. The front yard of the new home had a lake about 20' across and 5-6 inches deep.

This manager told the new owner that the water problem on our side was caused by water shooting off our roof clear across 22' and causing massive runoff.

The other side flooding problem is because the parking pad slopes to the neighbor's yard and to the front yard of the new home. He told the new homeowner it would be her problem to correct the problem at her expense.

I resent this man starting a problem by blaming us for the flooding on our side. And I think it's trreibly unfair of the builder to pass the cost of correcting this problem on to the new owner.

The project manager had been forewarned; he should have graded properly and didn't.

No solution, but I just needed to vent about people who don't own up to their mistakes.

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I see you live in Florida? I've never lived there but I have visited, and I have a good friend in Orlando.

Florida is notoriously flat and water drainage is a constant problem. Is there any gradient at all between these houses, or is it as flat as I picture Florida to be?

I ask if there is a gradient, because there is a framework of law that covers this very thing. The "MCR" (modified civil rule) holds that a down-gradient landowner must accept the natural run-off from upgradient land. This means that if water would naturally run in that direction, even without the new house and new driveway, then the downgradient landowner has to accept that water, even if the new contstruction increased the amount.

The existing neighbor has probably always had a small amount of water drainage from the empty lot, but now that there is a house there, the amount has increased.

I know this not because I'm a lawyer (I'm not), but because I was faced with the same thing shortly after moving into my own house. My uphill neighbor's gutters would flood my front walk and my flower beds. I asked my builder about it and they told me that if the natural downhill flow of water was causing me a problem, there was not much they could do about it. Putting in drains or regrading would be at my own expense. The builder didn't cause water to drain onto my property, nature (and gravity) did.

Luckily, when I pointed out the overflow to my neighbor, he readily agreed to modify his gutter downspouts on my side so that the water would be directed to the back of his property. There is a nice slope away from both of our houses and the water drains away harmlessly.

In an area as flat as Florida, I'm not sure how to handle the amount of water you describe. Perhaps a poster more familiar with flatlands will respond. I also wish the builder involved in this was a bit more helpful, but there it is.

P.S. Florida law may be different, or Florida may not even subscribe to the Modified Civil Rule. Does your town or county have a Soil and Water department? Or maybe the civil authority that is responsible for street drainage can advise her.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2007 at 10:18PM
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chapnc, there was never a water problem for either side home before this new construction. There was some water collection on the new home's lot and we tried to tell the project manager about this. On our side of the home, their planting beds were impacted because:

A: The beds are higher than the sod at their property line and slope down, creating a gradient.
B: The new home has no gutters or diverters and the roof pitch is 9/12 with many angles, some of which directly dump the water into the side bed. As a result several holes about 6" deep were created where the water came down with great force from these roof gullies.
C: They have not installed any edging materials to contain the mulch.
D. It is visible to the naked eye that the lot is higher at the street, angles slightly downward where the home is situated and rather than sloping down to the lake, rises slightly to equal the street level height.
E. The other neighbors have paver driveways which allow water to seep through the pavers and be absorbed. This home has a wide, curving concrete driveway that causes the water to run off into the yard.

The other side of the home has a concrete parking pad that slopes to the other neighbor's side yard as well as a concrete pad that is part of a dog run so no water absorption there either.

We are a very friendly community of 6 homes on our street and we intend to keep it that way. We assume things are not done intentionally to offend a neighbor. It's just sad that this new younger couple is being told that their water problems are being caused by the existing homes on each side of their home.

The other neighbor can easily fix his problem by placing a 6" strip of solid material at the base of his fence to prevent the water from flooding his property.

It just bothers me that a very reputable builder has created a problem that could have been avoided and is not willing to take responsibility and is not willing to try to fix it. He'd rather shift the blame elsewhere.

What I didn't mention is that this new neighbor is our niece and her husband and we don't want a family feud here.
I posted elsewhere about a landscaping issue that we've had to deal with without causing a family problem.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 5:42AM
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Yes, sounds like poor planning by the builder.

Do all the other homes in your neighborhood have gutters and downspouts? Sounds very strange that the builder wouldn't install them on this home. It makes this new home stand out from all the others, in that it is *missing* a desired feature. It should conform to all the other houses, but I don't know of any way to make the builder do it unless it is code or there is a HOA that requires gutters and proper drainage.

Is this a custome home? Did she buy it from the builder's inventory (a "spec" home)? Did she select from the builder's plans and have it built? Ask her to look back at the builder's specifications/features sheets and see if gutters and downspouts are mentioned. Seems to me if they were mentioned as features on their homes, then you can ask that they be installed even after closing.

Am I reading that you want to find a solution that doesn't involve a fued with your niece? Is this her first home? Direct her to this forum! She'll learn that new homeownership doesn't involve just showing up at the closing and getting the keys. Home ownership involves maintenance and improvements where needed (yes, even on a brand-new home!), including installing gutters on a house that's missing them. Also landscaping. Maybe you two could do yardwork together (I've had some neighbors that are much better at it than I am to help me). Point out some landscaping tips that will help with the drainage and help her make them a reality. In my earlier story about my drainage problem, I didn't take the time to mention that I also had to take steps to solve it. Even after my neighbor redirected his downspout, I had to move some plants and regrade the front yard a bit to improve the drainage. That involved a tiller (from the rental place) and some very very hard red-clay dirt. But it worked.

Also, my warranty documents with my new home stated that the builder would correct any drainage problems that caused standing water on my property. But it went on to define "standing water" as any water remaining on the surface 24 hours after a rainstorm. I had a lot of water during and immediately after a storm, but it would run off or percolate within 24 hours, so the warranty was of no use. Ask your neice to check her documents.

I hope I'm not sounding too trite or naive. The time to integrate her into the neighborhood is now, not later after any tension builds up. Sometimes solving problems without starting a fued can be difficult. You have to go the extra mile and find a way to point out that there is a problem (and a solution) without assigning blame to anyone.

Yes, the builder should have taken more steps, but most builders make themselves scarce after closing.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 10:04AM
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chapnc, this is a custom home being built by the most expensive builder in this area. This is the second home they've built but the first of this size, scale and detail.

The home has about 5400 heated sq ft and about 7400 under roof. He does not usually install gutters and rarely downspouts because he feels that his designs do not neccessitate their implementation.
We others have gutters and downspouts in selected areas of our homes, depending on the pitch and valleys. Our downspouts also drain underground through perforated pipes/tubing and the water is thus redirected to a more desirable spot in the yard.
And there are no HOA rules mandating gutters.
We will all deal with this, but unfortunately, this couple will realize the enormity of the water problem after they move in and are having to live with it.
The biggest eye opener will be when the dogs go into the side yard dog run and find that the area is under 3"-4" of water because it's the low point of the yard. On this same side is one of the AC units on a concrete slab that's right in the middle of the low point.

Again, my complaint is with the builder who should have done things differently and is trying to blame others for his screw-up.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 11:05AM
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Does Florida or your county or your town have any stormwater management requirements for new construction?
It would seem to be in a state that has so many hurricanes, the SWM would be number one on their priority list.

Who approves the grading? Doesn't the builder have to submit a plan for approval? If need to talk to those people inn authority who approved this...and get them involved.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 7:09PM
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The builder seems to be trying to resolve the issue at least on our side of the home. Right now there's a deep trench being dug from side yard to back and it appears that they are going to install some type of electrical pump and drainage pipes to contain the water and direct the flow away from their home.

We only require that houseplans be submitted to the HOA. We've never asked that grading plans be submitted.

Each of us has worked closely with our builders to assure our grading was properly done and we wrongly assumed this builder/project manager would have listened to us when we informed him of the water issues on this lot. He didn't.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 7:41AM
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i don't know about your area, but in mine the neighbor has to deal with any run off caused by another neighbor. when my parents installed their pool they spread the topsoil around the back yard about 4 inches deep to level the lawn out. this caused a lot of runoff from both rain and when they backwash the filter, and all of this would flood the rear neighbor's yard. he complained to the city and was told it was his problem to deal with. he ended up putting in a drain and a 6 inch PVC pipe to divert this water thru his yard and into the street so it could go in the storm sewer.

at least your neighbor's builder is trying to help. my parents refuse to help this neighbor because of his attitude prior to this incident.

the HOA should approve houseplans, but the area permit office/inspectors would be the ones who approve the grading.

i have a neighbor down the street that just built his house. since we are in a flood zone, he had to build the lot up 6 feet just to get approval to build. you can lay down on the ground against his house and your eyes are just below the top of the neighbor's windows.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 10:01AM
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davidandkasie: "the HOA should approve houseplans, but the area permit office/inspectors would be the ones who approve the grading."

True. In addition, while often a homeonwer will be told that it is his/her problem when all of a sudden a neighbor makes a change that cause a water issue, with new construction, the township usually has to approve the it is definitly worth contacting your town hall to investigate the issue.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 10:23AM
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